Greenwich town centre is to get a new Sainsbury’s supermarket, triggering a potential new threat to the town’s remaining independent shops.
The motorbike accessories store in the same Greenwich High Road block as the existing Co-op is closing down. On its windows are statutory notices announcing that Sainsbury’s is applying for an alcohol licence for the premises. The new store – about the same size as the Co-op by the looks of the site – will be the third new supermarket chain to open in recent years, after the M&S Simply Food at the Cutty Sark and the Tesco Metro on Trafalgar Road.
The post-Tesco fate of the other shops on Trafalgar Road – closure for some, reduced business for many - could be a worrying portent of the future. The new Sainsbury’s will be within a minute’s walk of Greenwich’s main cluster of independent food shops – the greengrocer, butcher, cheese shop, fishmonger and general grocery on Royal Hill.
True, these places have managed to cope with the Co-op, for years. But Sainsbury’s stock is likely be more directly competitive with them – more fresh food, more bourgeois comforts and more upmarket stuff than the Co-op – meaning that it’s a more serious threat.
And the competition between the two neighbouring supermarkets may also (temporarily) drive down prices on the basics and staples to an extent which damages Royal Hill. I found last year that the prices of the Royal Hill shops were suprisingly competitive with the Co-op (then Somerfield). If both of the retail behemoths are prepared to sell things at a loss as they battle it out, however, it seems unlikely that the smaller players will be able to compete on price. That could do them great damage.
At the same time, perhaps the most consuming retail issue in Greenwich – the fate of the market - is about to come to a head. Planning permission for Greenwich Hospital’s hateful scheme to knock down the market was refused exactly a year ago. But the Hospital’s appeal against the decision will be heard by a planning inspector at a public inquiry between September 7th and 17th.
Greenwich Hospital’s changes to the scheme – principally keeping, though reglazing, the roof – don’t seem to have convinced anyone. The existing shops will still be demolished and the number of stalls, and the food court, reduced. The site will be dominated by a 100-bedroom hotel.
On Sunday, as we covered on the site, there was a demo against the plans, with the three local councillors handing out leaflets claiming that even the revised proposals “will see the end of Greenwich Market as we know it.” This is true – because the cost of the redevelopment will almost certainly mean that the Hospital will have to raise the rents to a level beyond that which the existing independent traders can afford. Hays Galleria or Spitalfields, next stop!
The cynical view is that the tourists won’t be able to tell the difference. But of course they will – and we most certainly will. The market was so rammed this weekend that, to the rage of passing motorists, the demonstrators had to stand in the road. If it’s turned into a feeble appendage of a 100-room hotel, with added chain-stores, it won’t be anything like as much of a draw to the town.
As well as the local councillors, the influential Commission on Architecture and the Built Environment – the Government’s design standards watchdog- has attacked the revised scheme. In their response to the planning inspector, CABE said the new plans were still ‘alien.” They criticised the proposed layout of the market, the ‘dominating’ scale of the boutique hotel and the detailing of the glazed roof.
They branded as “awkward” the proposed new route from Greenwich Church Street into the market. And they said that the relationship between the roof and the proposed new buildings on either side was still not “fully resolved.”
I’ll be covering the saga of the market and the public inquiry in more detail within the next two weeks. But we should look at the onward march of the supermarkets – a Waitrose and a further Tesco are also rumoured – with just as much alarm.